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Iran sentences French-Iranian academic to six years in prison on bogus national security charges

Iran has sentenced Fariba Adelkhah, a French-Iranian academic who has been detained in the country for almost a year, to a maximum of six years in prison on charges of “colluding with the aim of breaching national security” and spreading “propaganda against the system”.

Fariba, 61, is an anthropologist and researcher at Sciences Po university in Paris, specialising in Shiite Islam. She has been held in Evin prison, north of Tehran, since being detained in June last year.

Prior to her sentencing Ms. Adelkhah had been engaged on a hunger strike that had lasted six weeks and ended on 12 February 2020, when fears were expressed over her health. Eleven days later she was admitted into the prison’s hospital for severe kidney damage.

She had previously been charged with spying but the charges were dropped in January.

Her sentence has been confirmed by Saeid Dehghan, Ms. Adelkhah’s lawyer, who said:

“The branch 15 of Tehran’s Revolutionary Court has sentenced her to five years’ jail for gathering and conspiring against Iran’s national security. She was also given a one-year jail term for propaganda against the Islamic Republic,”

Mr. Dehgan has also confirmed his plan to appeal against the sentence.

The new sentence has prompted fresh criticism from the French government who are calling for her immediate release.

The French foreign ministry have reiterated their position that Ms. Adelkhah’s conviction is politically motivated, saying:

“This sentencing is not based on any serious element or fact and is thus a political decision…We are urging Iranian authorities to immediately release Mrs Adelkhah.”

Iran, who does not recognise dual nationality, has previously deflected calls for her release on the grounds that such matters constitute internal affairs.

France and Ms. Adelkhah’s hopes of release may have been buoyed in March when Iran released her partner and colleague, Roland Marchal. In that case, France and Tehran came to an agreement over a prisoner swap, which saw Mr. Marchal – who had been detained when travelling to Iran to meet Ms. Adelkhah in March 2019 – returned to France and Iranian engineer Jalal Ruhollahnejad headed the other way.

French President Emmanuel Macron has also been heavily involved in trying to diffuse tensions between Washington and Tehran, mostly without success.

However, an imminent diplomatic resolution to Ms. Adelkhah’s detainment would now appear unlikely at best.

Iran has arrested dozens of foreign nationals on similar charges in recent years, and using these individuals as bargaining chips with other states has become a favoured tactic of Tehran.

There has been a fresh emphasis on securing the release of detained foreign nationals in light of the coronavirus pandemic; The ability to keep detainees safe from the virus within the awful conditions of most Iranian prisons has led to renewed calls for their immediate release.

In response, Tehran has temporarily released around 85,000 prisoners on furlough – including British-Iranian charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. However, the long term release of prisoners held on politically motivated charges are yet to be secured and many fear that individuals like Nazanin will soon find themselves back in prison.

Upon hearing the news of Nazinin’s temporary release, her local Member of Parliament Tulip Siddiq tweeted:

“Very happy to hear from Richard Ratcliffe that Nazanin’s furlough has been extended for a month – in line with other prisoners in Iran. Now is the time for our government to do all it can to make it permanent”

Other prisoners, such as Ms. Adelkhah and Australian national Kylie Moore-Gilbert have not even been this lucky and have spent the duration of the coronavirus outbreak – which has killed nearly 7,000 people in Iran – in detention.

It had widely been reported that Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who has spent more than 600 days in the notorious Ward 2A of Evin prison, had recently attempted to commit suicide after being subject to torture by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Her family have since come out and fervently denied these claims.

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